Why do you put up a Christmas tree? Why do you give presents? Why are candy canes a part of our Christmas traditions?
Are you sure you know the full story?
So many of the things we hang onto as truth, really aren’t. Or, at least, the terms we use aren’t defined well. For example, what’s the highest mountain in the world?
You just said Mount Everest, didn’t you.
Are you sure?
A mountain of facts
First of all, what do you mean by highest?
Do you mean the biggest difference from the base of the mountain to its peak? Well, then the highest mountain in the world would be Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It measures well over 33,000 feet, even though only about 14,000 of that is above water. Still, that’s more than 3,000 feet taller than Everest.
Perhaps you mean that the peak is farthest away from the center of the earth. Well, then the highest mountain would be Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador. Although it is shorter than Everest by about 8,000 feet, it is closer to the equator, which means it is farther away from the center of the earth.
Oh, wait. You didn’t know that the earth isn’t perfectly round? It’s not. It’s an oblate spheroid. Just think of a kid sitting on a ball. Which means things at the Equator are farther away from the center of the earth than things at other places on the earth.
What about Christmas traditions?
The Internet abounds with information, some of it true, some of it compiled, some of it poorly made up.
One website will tell you that every single Christmas tradition points to Christ in some way. Another will point out some of the very pagan origins of many traditions.
The evergreen tree
For example, pagans used the evergreen tree for thousands of years to remind them that winter would end and spring would come. Romans used the trees to decorate for the winter festival of Saturnalia—which included a sacrifice, a feast, gambling, and gift giving.
Did you know that the word “carol” originally meant to dance to something? The first carols were songs sung during seasonal celebrations as people danced around stone circles. Think of a winter solstice party at Stonehenge.
You may not want to know this, but mistletoe dates back to the time of the Druids. They used it to ward off evil and bring luck to the home. Norse mythology used it as a sign of friendship and love, which is where the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe started.
What does that mean for us?
What are we supposed to do with all that? Do we dump all holiday traditions and try to launch something new?
I don’t think so. For me, this comes back to two things.
First, the example of Paul.
In Acts 17, the apostle Paul goes to Athens. As he looks around the city, he begins to preach the Gospel. No surprise there, right?
But Paul didn’t merely preach the Gospel. He spoke to them in a way they understood, and he used items they were familiar with to start the conversation. Look at verse 23:
For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
This means we should consider the practice of using what people are familiar with to bring forth some fresh truth.
Maybe, Christmas songs are something a friend enjoys because she loves music. You could use Christmas carols to relate to her passion and bring a deeper meaning to her season.
By the way, that’s exactly what Christians did to winter carols. And the use of candles during the holiday season. And many of the colors we associate with Christmas today.
Second, the question we must settle
Can people change? Or perhaps, do people change? What do you really believe deep in your heart, and how does that come out in your actions?
You see, if people change then the attitudes and symbolisms of things in their life also change.
I am not the same woman I was twenty years ago. Some of the things I loved back then are less important to me, and other things are more important to me.
And I find that the closer I walk with God, the more like Him I think. That’s a good thing! But it means that what I see when I look at my Christmas tree today is vastly different from what I saw twenty years ago.
Same thing with candy canes, mistletoe, and even Santa Claus. My heart and mind look at everything this Christmas season—from the most religious to the most secular—and cannot help but see Jesus.
That doesn’t mean I have a large inflatable minion in my front yard (although you will find Santa in several places around my house). But when I see a friend or a neighbor with one, I can marvel at the simple candy cane in the minion’s hand and start a conversation about Jesus.
Back to the opening question
So, why do you put up a Christmas tree? Why do you give presents? Why are candy canes a part of your Christmas traditions?
For me, it’s all about Jesus. And thankfully, every year, it becomes a little more so.